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Merger of Chinese rare earth producers could affect prices, analysts say

The Chinese city of Baotou. (Image by Matthew Stinson)

The merger of three rare earth element producers in China — China Minmetals Rare Earth, Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals and China Southern Rare Earth Group — could affect global prices at a time when demand for REEs is rising due to their use in electric vehicles and other ‘green energy’ technology, some analysts say. 

 “The merged company will increase the control over prices in the international market place and could lead to even higher prices in the coming year,” independent economist Patricia Mohr told The Northern Miner.  

“The merger probably reflects the perceived need to consolidate control over the supply of heavy REEs in view of curtailed mine supplies from Myanmar [due to political developments in the Asian country],” added the former Vice-President Economics and commodity market specialist at Scotiabank. “Power shortages in China may also be increasing the need for operational efficiencies in the processing of rare earth elements in China.”  

China is the world’s biggest producer of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals employed in a range of applications including permanent magnets used in electric vehicles, renewable energy devices and military equipment. The Asian juggernaut controls about 85% to 90% of the world’s rare earths processing. 

CRU Group consultant Daan de Jonge told the Reuters news agency that the merged company would be the world’s second-largest REE producer in terms of output after   China Northern Rare Earth Group, and would account for about 70% of China’s heavy rare earths production, based on Chinese issued quotas for the first half of 2021. 

“This will mean that the pricing power of key rare earths, such as dysprosium and terbium, will be in the hands of one ‘super group,’” he told Reuters in an article published on December 22.  

Jiangxi Ganzhou Rare Metal Exchange, a fledgling bourse for spot transactions and Ganzhou Zhonglan Rare Earth New Material Technology, will also be folded into the new entity, Reuters reported. 

According to Mohr, REEs are already the “biggest winners” in terms of price appreciation in 2021, particularly the light REEs neodymium and praseodymium, and the heavy REE dysprosium — all of which are used in EVs.   

Mohr noted that the price of neodymium oxide (99% China FOB), for instance, hit $142,300 per tonne on December 8, a 79% year-on-year increase, and the highest level since May 2012.   

Last week terbium oxide (99.9% FOB China) reached $1,730 per kilogram, up 68% from a year ago, while dysprosium oxide (99% FOB China) has reached $456 per kilogram, up 57% year-on-year.   

(This article first appeared in The Northern Miner)